Vogue.com Reviews Copenhagen Fashion Summit: Circular Systems Co-Founder Isaac Nichelson and the Future of Regenerative Fiber

Inside the Copenhagen Fashion Summit: Well-Dressed Danes and Why You Shouldn’t Wear Spandex

 Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Chia porridge, packaged tap water, coffee cups so compostable they all but melt in your mouth . . . it must be May at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. This is the eighth iteration of the event since its founding by Eva Kruse, and it has grown into a smoothly orchestrated two-day programmer of panels and presentations at the city’s DR Concert Hall. With speakers from the U.S., Europe, China, and Bangladesh, it sets out to bridge the great divide between sustainability and big business.

Kicked off with an elegant drive-by from Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary, Day One, hosted by Tim Blanks and Amber Valletta, offers plenty to wrap one’s head around. Discussions revolve, quite literally, around a circular economy, block-chain technology, and a closed-loop fashion system. A material innovator describes Spandex as “a toxic loaf of death” and explains that off-gassing from a ribbed neckline (the ribbing is achieved with a synthetic assist) sends harmful chemicals right into our jugulars. We hear from Aquafil’s Giulio Bonazzi, who is salvaging fishing nets and used carpets from landfills to create endlessly recyclable nylon. The Renewal Workshop’s Jeff Denby explains that he has opened a factory in Oregon to refurbish damaged, excess, and returned fashion inventory and save it from incineration.

I also learned that we will soon be wearing bananas. Los Angeles–based fabric developer Isaac Nichelson believes we should focus our farming on food crops whose leftovers can be turned into clothing fibers. (The category includes sugarcane, pineapple residue, and the flax and hemp remains of oil seed plants.) Banana trunks, left to decompose, release large amounts of methane. Far better to have Nichelson’s Circular Systems use its spinning technology to turn them into the pale yellow linen-like sample hanging from his stand, ripe for plucking to make a pair of summer palazzo pants.

Participation ranges at the extremes, from the preaching of zealots to shilling and promotion by corporate representatives. In between is a large helping of thoughtful solutions and concrete, date-tied commitments to sustainability targets. Orsola de Castro, for example, founded Fashion Revolution in direct response to Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza tragedy. By tracking and publishing the transparency records of global manufacturers, she is aiding the effort to create dignified conditions and wages for garment workers.

The slightly awkward paradox of the summit’s enterprise is that the making and buying of fashion are themselves part of the problem. We manufacture 60 percent more clothing than we did 15 years ago, and 87 percent of it proceeds rather swiftly into the trash. This is addressed by William McDonough, founder of the Fashion For Good initiative (with the C&A Foundation), who points out that “being less bad is not the same as being good.” We should all, he says, “buy less and care for it better.” Tips on how to make our clothes last longer are offered—with only a little self-interest—by Procter & Gamble’s Bert Wouters: Use high-quality detergent, wash in the quick cycle with cold water, and add fabric conditioner. Now that’s news you can use.

MAY 17, 2018 8:23 AM

by EVE MACSWEENEY

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